Archer: I bet I won’t even be able to eat spaghetti and meatballs again. Oh god!
Archer: I could eat. Not necessarily spaghetti and meatballs, but, you know, not necessarily not spaghetti and meatballs. I mean I really like spaghetti and meatballs. Man, if I don’t get some spaghetti and meatballs, I may literally die.”
Strength of schedule (SOS) doesn’t really matter. Except for when it does. I always tread lightly with any SOS analysis because like most predictions, it’s difficult to forecast. But I also don’t believe that because it’s difficult to predict, it should be ignored. I’m not suggesting you use anything SOS related as a crutch, but I’ll share a few ways that I incorporate it. We also have a great little tool here that lets you visualize SOS by calculating an average points per drive for any teams’ schedule this season.
One of the things I often do consider when evaluating a player is what division he plays in and how I project those teams, because the games in-division make up 38 percent of every teams’ schedule. I may use this as a tiebreaker if need be on either a micro or macro level.
For example, I have Brandon Marshall and A.J. Green valued very closely overall. Using the Games Splits App you can find out that Andy Dalton, whose play has a butterfly effect on Green, has played down from his career averages while in division play. In part that’s his own doing but also the AFC North also has boasted some very formidable defenses since Dalton and Green have been in the league. Cincinnati draws Pittsburgh and Cleveland during the first two weeks of the fantasy playoffs then he’ll dance with Aqib Talib in what would hypothetically be the fantasy championship game while the Bears play Dallas, New Orleans, and Detroit. Of course that doesn’t mean that Green is incapable of going bananas against any of those opponents, but probability suggests that Marshall is a better bet to succeed when I need him the most.There are a few other SOS-related factors that lead me to prefer Marshall. One is the division in which Marshall plays in and how he’s performed thus far in divisional play.
In this series, we’re going to look at offensive production in division games last season as a whole and per game. Then I’ll run through each with the game logs as we look forward to 2014. A way you can make this information useful for yourself is to use it on conjunction with the draft capital pieces already done by Papa RotoViz here and here, that handy Points/Drive app since total yardage generally doesn’t roll over year to year, and the sorcery known as the Games Splits App. First up is the AFC and NFC North.
Combined Production In Division Games
|Division||Pts/Gm||Div. Rank||Yds/Gm||Div. Rank||PaYd/Gm||Div. Rank||RuYd/Gm||Div. Rank||TO/Gm||Div. Rank|
*PaYD is player output and NOT effected by yardage lost to sacks
The North is what people wanted the East to be for fantasy purposes in 2013. The average game in division was 29.8 to 21.8 while on 14 different occasions did a team reach 24 points scored in a game. This division is loaded from a talent perspective at the running back position and subpar in defending the run as teams allowed 286.6 combined rushing yards per game. Only the Lions pose a threat in run defense again this season, so full steam ahead when purchasing any of the top shelf talent here.
The Vikings have invested the most capital into their defense over the past few seasons and have hired Mike Zimmer as head coach. He still has some work to do with a defense that was one of the worst in the back end a year ago, so I don’t expect him to hit the ground running full speed for 2014. Green Bay should rebound to a degree with Casey Hayward and a healthy Clay Matthews returning to go alongside the arrival of Julius Peppers as well as adding a lot through the past few drafts. Despite what these defenses are adding, this division harbors some of the best offenses in the league that all arguably improved this offseason more than any of the defenses have.
Sure, Adrian Peterson has destroyed nearly every opponent throughout his career, but he’s been Bo Jackson Tecmo Bowl-esque playing in this division throughout his career. One thing worth noting of Peterson though is all of his fantasy relevant (excluding week 17) divisional games are out of the way after week 12 except for a week 15 tilt at Detroit. You won’t be sitting him, but his matchups in week 13 and 14 are about as poor as you can get on paper, facing Carolina and the Jets. Those two weeks are potentially the two most critical weeks for fantasy as they are weeks that vault teams into the playoffs and continue them. I won’t avoid Peterson, but I’m cognizant that LeSean McCoy and Matt Forte have more desirable late season slates that may break a decision between them and Purple Jesus if I’m staring at them on the board.
The team in the North that benefits the most from playing in this division for 2014 is the Lions. They play Chicago twice and Minnesota over the four week fantasy final stretch weeks 13 through 16. Even though he’s expected to have some of his carries clipped this upcoming season, Reggie Bush really found playing the North fruitful in 2013. The other way you can look at this is that Detroit doesn’t play many division games until very late in the year, meaning Bush could be a player to target in trades if he doesn’t live up to his price tag early in the season.
NFC North Game Log
|2||Chicago Bears||31||292||127||4||Minnesota Vikings||30||227||123||3|
|9||Chicago Bears||27||272||171||0||Green Bay Packers||20||131||199||1|
|1||Detroit Lions||34||357||112||2||Minnesota Vikings||24||236||105||4|
|4||Detroit Lions||40||242||159||3||Chicago Bears||32||317||131||4|
|10||Detroit Lions||21||219||145||1||Chicago Bears||19||312||38||1|
|13||Detroit Lions||40||330||241||4||Green Bay Packers||10||139||24||3|
|5||Green Bay Packers||22||274||180||0||Detroit Lions||9||262||64||0|
|8||Green Bay Packers||44||285||182||0||Minnesota Vikings||31||145||111||0|
|17||Green Bay Packers||33||318||160||2||Chicago Bears||28||226||121||2|
|12||Minnesota Vikings||26||233||232||1||Green Bay Packers||26||316||196||0|
|13||Minnesota Vikings||23||283||246||1||Chicago Bears||20||355||135||1|
|17||Minnesota Vikings||14||189||174||2||Detroit Lions||13||217||63||0|
The AFC North is pretty much as useful as the North in “Game of Thrones.” The quarterbacks in this division were about as useful as Bran’s storyline. Their inner division games produced the lowest totals in scoring, total yardage, rushing, and the second-fewest in passing. Only in one game did a team throw for 300 yards and that required a massive showing from Josh Gordon. These division contests are nearly barren for fantasy points.
None of these teams are great at running the football against good defenses. The Ravens can’t run the football at all, apparently. The Browns likely want to run the football a lot, so their backfield could be a volume play but we don’t know if any of their backs are pass catchers. The Steelers offensive line is mostly a sum of parts but at least Le’Veon Bell can catch. Even with the additions of S2K, there’s not a lot to love in terms of these teams producing points from the ground facing each other.
To further matters, the Browns and Bengals each selected cornerbacks, while the Steelers and the Ravens selected linebackers in the first round this season. Cincy gets Leon Hall and Geno Atkins back in the fold as well to compensate the departure of Mike Zimmer. Zimmer was a fantasy QB killer during the end of his run with the Bengals, allowing only 10 to post a top 12 scoring week over his final 48 games as defensive coordinator.
One player who won’t miss Zimmer is Ben Roethlisberger. I’ve noted Zimmer has been a fantasy QB killer while in Cincy, but look at what he did to Big Ben while there since 2008.
Another polarizing player this offseason has been Antonio Brown. He was as steady as they came in 2013 and was the only receiver in the NFL to have five receptions and 50 receiving yards in all 16 games played last season. A lot of fantasy folks are anticipating regression from him this season, and one area you can point to that possibly stemming from is that Brown had a really favorable out of division slate last year. In division, he looked like the regular catch reliant receiver we consider him as.
Since I did mention Green in the opening, I’ll throw in his division splits as a bonus offering. They aren’t very appealing for a receiver that carries a top shelf price tag and will see a tough road when you need to rely on him the most.
AFC North Game Log
|2||Baltimore Ravens||14||211||99||1||Cleveland Browns||6||227||65||0|
|10||Baltimore Ravens||20||140||85||3||Cincinnati Bengals||17||274||120||3|
|13||Baltimore Ravens||22||251||74||0||Pittsburgh Steelers||20||257||72||0|
|2||Cincinnati Bengals||20||280||127||0||Pittsburgh Steelers||10||251||44||2|
|11||Cincinnati Bengals||41||118||106||2||Cleveland Browns||20||248||102||4|
|17||Cincinnati Bengals||34||281||111||4||Baltimore Ravens||17||192||47||3|
|4||Cleveland Browns||17||269||89||0||Cincinnati Bengals||6||206||63||2|
|9||Cleveland Browns||24||260||73||1||Baltimore Ravens||18||250||55||2|
|7||Pittsburgh Steelers||19||160||141||1||Baltimore Ravens||16||215||82||0|
|12||Pittsburgh Steelers||27||217||85||0||Cleveland Browns||11||333||55||4|
|15||Pittsburgh Steelers||30||191||106||1||Cincinnati Bengals||20||230||57||1|
|17||Pittsburgh Steelers||20||179||120||2||Cleveland Browns||7||240||79||2|
As usual, I’m not suggesting that you build your roster based on predicting the outcome of matchups. However, if you’re looking to break ties or put yourself in favorable probability; it doesn’t always have to be skirted aside as a fool’s errand.